Monday, December 20, 2010

This Is Not Funny.

I think about comedy a lot, and not just in the sense of "What's a good romantic comedy?" or "Where did I hear the best one-liner joke ever?" Btws, my answer to both:  Some Like It Hot.

I tend to think about comic timing a lot and what makes something funny--because knowing what's funny is sort of a 6th Sense in a lot of ways. I'm not saying I have that 6th Sense. I am saying I've seen that weird vibe in action enough to know it's a symbiotic relationship at work between the people causing a joke and those who are enjoying it. And I find it fascinating. Btws again, if I am going to spend the rest of the blog actively analyzing and talking about comedy, this update will probably result in one of the least funny posts yet. Comedy is funny like that.


To kick off, let's go to a source. I am intrigued by how it works and what it is that drives humor. A lot of people have responded (positively, I might add) to the graphs and drawings I draw. I am glad of it.  But, I recognize that there are two patterns at work here: 1) I like to use the same sort of childish humor over and over and 2) there's comic timing at work even in artistic mediums that technically have no rate of motion, like drawings. How is it possible that something 2-D has comic timing?  How is it possible that something static can still move?  This is the point in which my brain starts churning: comic timing isn't just a matter of watching something humorously interact with the world in real time, it's about how your brain receives a joke. It's a discovery.

I bet you that some of the best one-liners you've heard, you've only heard in your head. Finding someone who can do an incredible deadpan or delivery is rare. But, we still manage to have and churn out a large amount of humor in the world. So, we must not be fully dependent on second parties, walking around, blessing us with a new joke every day. We have to be able to provide that humor for ourselves to some extent. And if while reading that line you have an image to stick it on, you can come up with some of the funniest voices (to you) possible. Case in point:

This just about cracked me in two when I first saw it. And normally using extra "!" 's makes me cringe--but, if we want to get technical here (and I am--this is Technical City, this post) it works because if a little kid a) used swear words and b) could express himself using grammar he would a) use the worst words and b) misuse the grammar. Plus, the fact that it can only be found on the internet in this bite-size format and has no higher resolution, makes for a uniquely powerful impact on the unsuspecting viewer. Plain and simple, this has fantastic comic timing.

But, the reason why it ultimately works so well is that the image and the words used are in perfect alignment for you to hear the best delivery of this joke possible. Comic timing, then, is a symbiotic relationship between our individual sense of imagination and the author of the joke trying to access that imagination. It's sort of like "You're your own worst critic" in reverse. With humor, and reading humorous things to yourself, you become your own best comedian. 

Not that it's all because of you if something's funny. It's a give and take relationship. Those who have that 6th sense can feel that humor stopwatch ticking. They know they have a pocket of fertile time your brain is absorbing the potential joke. And they know how good the work in setting a joke up beforehand is what most likely predicts the resulting physical reaction. When you think about it, humor is kind of like pain:  it has to travel, make a necessary journey through into system for the reaction to come right back out.

Not that I want you to think of me as a pain.

Or that you aren't inherently funny without me watching you.

I have no idea which one of you I'm talking to right now, so I can't tell if you're funny or not, honestly.

You could be Amy.

I know Amy's funny.

Unless she's making fun of me.

Then she's not funny.

Now the word funny has lost its meaning to me because I've read it too much.

But, now that it has lost meaning I can tell it is onomatopoetic (funny sounds funny).


Moving on.

I mentioned earlier the idea of successful comic timing. That then made me think, "What is an example of unsuccessful comic timing?" I guess it's when an attempt to be funny just isn't--and no, I don't mean that in the annoyed, outraged tone of voice where I'm about to say next, "People DIED over such and such thing you're making fun of!"  No. I just mean it's boring. If I have no reaction, if my mouth doesn't move into a smile but instead stays perfectly still, my breath doesn't catch, the corners of my eyes are static, then you can pretty much guarantee my fingers are already reaching to click onto something else. It's kind of like how the opposite of love isn't hate, it's indifference, the opposite of a laugh isn't anger, it's no reaction whatsoever. Anger is at least a reaction--it's poking something that tells you right back that you exist, although you are now the target of some serious pummeling.

A good example, I think, of a unsuccessful comedy (and thus, flat comic timing) is this particular version of the child who fuckin' LOVES to draw I found while looking it up:

Exhibit A:  Not Funny.

Basically, what failed is that someone tried to increase the hilarity of something that's stand-alone funny by adding something else to it. In this particular case it was implanting it into the De-motivational Poster format, which has become its own meme, some successful, some not.

I think what specifically made this unsuccessful was how the joke was presented to its audience. The gem of the actual joke is high-energy, fast and furiously silly. To then try to stuff it into the world of sardonic deadpan, via the graphic design trope of white-on-black punchlines, it becomes less funny, if not altogether ignorable.

The worst part is it leaves that bad comedy karmasay it three times fast nowtaste in your mouth afterwards that someone was trying to ride on the coattails of someone else's good sense of comic timing.

I leave you with a video that I find absolutely hilarious, which will make up for the gratuitous amount of analysis I just put you through:



  1. i think i'm funniest when i'm making fun of you. just sayin'.


    This is comedy.

  3. Amy -- Lame.

    Abby -- I agree. That video made me fall off of MY counter. And I didn't even see it coming!